The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), one of the largest trade associations representing over 2,000 technology companies, has announced the creation of a new membership category for startups. Starting at a “reduced rate” of $95 per year, the CEA says it is recognizing the importance of these new companies as important innovators in today’s society.

Gary Shapiro, CEA’s president and CEO, said that “startups are jumpstarting our economy and are paving the way for America’s future. Creating a unique membership category for startups is another way we are pursuing our strategic goal of promoting innovation, the lifeblood of our industry.” This announcement comes just two weeks before the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada where thousands of tech enthusiasts and insiders will gather to take a look at the future of the industry.

For anyone who has been to CES, it’s a jam-packed event filled with panel sessions, keynotes, announcements, and products. From Ford to Sony, Canon to Kodak, Intel to Monster, and thousands of other companies, Las Vegas will be filled with lots of gadgets and hardware.

The addition of a startup membership tier is well needed. Looking at today’s innovation in terms of software, startups have been at the forefront. Whether it’s helping to deal with the second screen like what Google TV or NextGuide is doing or the growing influence of social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc, or even the enormous popularity of mobile apps, it’s obvious that hardware isn’t the king of consumer electronics anymore. Just look at what Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Sonos, and many other services are doing with startups and it’s easy to see why the CEA is interested in them now, more than ever.

People are interested in finding ways to interact with their devices and startups are coming up with the latest ways to help spur that innovation.

After all, finding ways to innovate hardware takes more time than with software. Perhaps the CEA is interested in helping hardware companies find new ways to scale features within existing products versus continually going out to buying the latest television? Or maybe it’s trying to get consumers to do both.

Of course not every startup can join the CEA. Any prospective member must “be in development of a technology product, service, or app that has been introduced into the market within the last year or will be within the next year.” In addition, it must have annual sales under $1 million, be located in North America, and has not been a CEA member within the past two years. Once granted admission, startups will receive the benefits of regular membership at the reduced rate for two years.

Startups are receiving a discount on CEA membership. Regular membership rates begin at $850 per year and vary depending on the company’s annual US revenue (starting at $4 million). Startups will pay $95 per year and receive free market research reports, access to CES, training and certification, access to the member directory, and more — all the benefits of regular members.

Applications for the new membership category will start to be accepted January 3, 2013.

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